The first time I played Lone Survivor in 2012, I was left uneasy and on edge. Now that it’s been a year, I’ve had enough time to let the experience stew, and I can see Lone Survivor under a different, evaluative light. Not much has changed—I still appreciate Lone Survivor as being not only a brilliant 2D survival horror game inspired from Silent Hill, but now I also appreciate how Jasper Byrne creates an environment in which you truly have to feel you’re way through.
Lone Survivor’s story, of course, more than accommodates the idea in which players have a choice in how they survive. Players assume the role of a lone survivor, whose name no longer seems to be relevant. He only has one goal: to leave his distorted apartment and find other survivors, if only so he doesn't have to die alone. But considerable time has passed since the infestation, keeping him holed up from the wretched, bizarrely freakish creatures with little facial features. His mind seems to be failing him, and he must cautiously choose whether he should wait to forage enough proper food or if that rat is looking a bit too tasty—it does have protein, after all. He’s already regressed to a point where he’s seeing things that may or may not be real. Depending on the drugs he takes, certain characters will appear to help him in his dreams, and other characters spout different, off kilter lines based on his actions.
In the end, it’s really up to the players to decide what’s real. Whatever the players choose will lead to them experiencing new dialogue, new hallucinations, and even endings. There’s no right way to go about it—you can try to keep the remaining thread of sanity by choosing more healthy actions, or you can choose the more easier route of excessive violence—or maybe you could even use violence as a last resort. All of your choices bring an ending that’s not complete. None can be considered the “good” and “bad” ending— and the new endings that come with the Director’s Cut will only provide another layer of pertinent information. Rather, they’re fragments of a truth that players must determine for themselves.
Whether or not you want to get to the truth depends entirely on core being. You see, Lone Survivor looks like it could be the most advanced Super Nintendo game, and yet it is still—maybe even because of that—genuinely unsettling. The sprites aren’t the sharpest, and nor are the animations fluid—but Jasper Byrne creates some disturbing imagery in the atmosphere. Most of what you see is within the circumference of your flashlight, and you’ll want to save those batteries because the monsters are sensitive to light. Environments can range from a run-down apartment, and then some rooms look as if they come straight from a Silent Hill game. Locked doors are covered in veins, and a giant, still-beating hearts will occupy most of the space in an otherwise empty room. Weird distortions will pop up in the darkest areas, and usually provide enough red-tinted light for some truly disturbing effects—and it is in this kind of atmosphere when Lone Survivor’s tension reaches its maximum.
Even the sound carries the static weight that can be found in the most frightening of horror games, but it’s not afraid to intersperse blues, rock n’ roll, and even jazz. Some of the lighter tunes are used to balance the overwhelming tension, such as the Director’s Theme, while others can only make light of how bizarre the protagonist’s situation truly is. For instance, the jazz piece, combined with some details I discovered in the game, makes me question the background of the game. Fans of the original Lone Survivor are most likely fans of the soundtrack, and they can be excited that Jasper has included some new tracks in the Director’s Cut—it’s just hidden, along with the rest of the content.
As with the most intense horror games, the protagonist is limited in his combative abilities, and he must generally avoid combat—although it is most certainly an option. Items such as rotting meat can be used to distract the creatures, flares can be used to stun them, and your firearm can permanently eliminate the threat. The controls are clunky, but never a hindrance—they serve just enough to make you feel like you’re stumbling in the dark. For instance, players can easily access their flares, rotten meat, and health item by holding L1; however, they need to decide quickly before the monsters get to them first. Wielding the gun comes with its own challenges, as you’re given a single, weak pistol, and your enemies can overwhelm you from both sides—you can thankfully exploit their weak points such as the kneecaps to get them off your grill.
While its mechanics are understandably clunky, Lone Survivor has some instances in which it risks taking the fear out of the experience. For instance, the protagonist can easily escape enemies when in hiding. Even after immediately being caught, the protagonist can hide in a seemingly poor hiding spot and the monster will walk away. There’s also a bartering system in which the protagonist can trade with certain characters for flares and ammo. The system can be easily exploited, and I never found myself without plenty of ammo and flares, alleviating only some of the tension.
But where Lone Survivor really shines is in the details, which comes in the form of exploration and foraging. The character frequently makes comments on the walls, which are littered with newspaper clippings or out of place buildings—they provide enough details for the players to connect plot details. Players will also come across various items such as cooking gear and various food supplies—some, such as the dried squid on a stick, isn’t the most wholesome of meals but it is filling. Then you’ll find cook-able food including a ham, which provides one of the most poignant moments in the game. Drinking too much caffeine will affect you negatively, and certain drugs can lead to dependencies for certain items—they also play a major factor in which ending you receive and which characters with whom you interact. You’ll never know how items will contribute to your overall sanity, as the game doesn't have any meters—it will only give you hints based on the protagonist’s commentary and a mental health report at the end of the game. In order to survive, you truly have to feel your way through.
Fans of Lone Survivor already know this, and they may wonder why they should purchase the PSN version. For starters, Lone Survivor is a cross-purchase, meaning you can play it on your PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita. Jasper Byrne also promises enough content with twenty additional items, new music, more content and endings. Be prepared to do some exploring though—they’re well hidden, which makes discovering them all the more worthwhile, albeit slightly frustrating.
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is still a brilliant example of survival horror that’s relevant beyond its two-dimensional plane. It has intense atmosphere that’s never impeded by the low polygon count, and I always felt unsettled. But the best parts are truly the endings, as they each provide fragments of the truth, which ensures that you’ll be thinking about this game long after you’ve beaten it.
This review is based on a digitally downloaded review copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Curve Studios.